Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend I knew I'd have some time to possibly explore a far away gym. Looking at the schedule the Montana vs Long Beach State match up looked very attractive. Long Beach State was coming off an impressive win against Pittsburgh and in my opinion was playing the best basketball out of the Big West Conference so far. The majority of their team was returning from last year's run to the Big West Conference Tournament Final and this year could be the year they break through into the NCAA Tournament. Montana similarly came up short in the final of the Big Sky Conference Tournament last year. It was an early match up of two potential candidates who could represent their respective conferences in the NCAA Tournament in March, though Weber State and UCSB will have something to say about that by seasons end. I pegged Long Beach State as the favorite, but sometimes the favorite playing on the road at altitude (3209 ft above sea level) can struggle.
Being a holiday travel weekend my options were limited as prices on flights were more expensive than usual. I started off looking for a regional flight to Missoula or Spokane and these options were well above my budget. Looking further out there was Seattle or Boise but they were also heavily booked and remaining tickets were well above what I could spend. Finally I found a redeye flight from New York City to Salt Lake City that was affordable but would leave me with a five hundred mile drive in both directions. With a drive that long any kind of winter weather or icy condition could affect my ability to arrive in time for the game, let alone getting back for work on Monday morning. It seemed a little dicey but I decided to go for it.
After work on Friday I caught the late flight out to Salt Lake City arriving just after midnight local time. I rented a car and proceeded to head north determined to drive until exhaustion kicked in. Somewhere south of Pocatello, Idaho I found a rest area and pulled in. My vehicle was the only vehicle there which made me a little uneasy. As sleep began to set in I wondered "at what point do bears hibernate?" Since I still don't own a smart phone I would not find out that answer this night.
I awoke shortly before sunrise. The temperature had plunged into the low teens and my car had frosted over. My vehicle was still the only vehicle at the rest stop. Resuming the drive north I happily noted that road conditions were still very good. As daylight came I realized I had been driving in several valleys between mountain ranges. This rugged country was mindblowingly beautiful. Picturesque snow capped mountains dotted the horizon in every direction. As I left Idaho and entered into Montana the mountains on the horizon grew closer and closer and soon it seemed that they began to emanate from either side of the roadway. I encountered very little traffic in either direction for quite sometime. The scenery distracted me often as this was my first visit to Montana. As I drove I wondered if these cliffs were once used to drive buffalo to their death by native peoples.
Upon arriving early in Missoula I quickly headed over to the university to check out the facilities and pick up my ticket for the game tonight. There was a line of people waiting at the ticket office for service and when I made my way to the attendant I apparently sent the box office into a bit of a tizzy asking about the mens basketball contest tonight rather than upcoming football tickets. This concerned me greatly but after some checking and rechecking of a computer database, and consultation with others in the office they could confirm that there was indeed a basketball game on the schedule for tonight. I was able to pick up my ticket after declining numerous sales pitches for the football event next week.
Later that night I returned to the Dahlberg Arena for the game. The arena has a unique appearance like so many of venues in this area. Much like the Kibbie Dome or the Holt Arena which I stopped at on the ride home, it has a long semicircular construction with a rounded roof. The Dahlberg Arena appears to have had several additions built complement the arena giving it a slightly more traditional look.
To my surprise the game had a very sizeable turnout with 3529 in attendance. The 49ers looked good in this game from the start. Although Montana got off to a 5-0 lead Long Beach State looked to be the quicker, more athletic team. Soon Long Beach State tied the game and would hold as large as an 11 point lead in the first half. As the first half came to an end Montana came back to cut the deficit to 6 points at halftime. Casper Ware made three big three point baskets and TJ Robinson seemed to be everywhere hitting big shots to quiet the crowd. Montana utilized their big men effectively with Selvig and Jamar rebounding well and scoring some timely hoops. Jamar hit a big shot as time expired at the half.
The second half was similar to the first with Long Beach State sprinting out to a ten point advantage only to have the Grizzlies come back to cut the deficit. By 8:13 left the game was tied and it seemed like the 49ers had lost a step of quickness. The game remained very close with lead changes until the final few seconds. An errant pass by Long Beach State sealed the game for the Grizzlies sending the vocal crowd home happy. This was a quality win for this program and the Big Sky Conference.
After the game I got some rest for the night and prepared for another travel day. I took my time heading back stopping in Dillon, Montana and Pocatello, Idaho. I got into Salt Lake City that evening a few hours before my flight home. I landed in New York City at 5:30 AM and was at work by seven already dreaming about my next adventure.
at MONTANA 73, LONG BEACH STATE 71 11/26/2011
LONG BEACH STATE 3-2 (0-0) -- L. Anderson 3-9 6-6 13; T. Robinson 7-11 11-12 25; C. Ware 4-12 4-6 15; E. Phelps 2-5 4-6 8; M. Caffey 1-4 3-4 6; J. Ennis 0-2 0-0 0; E. Dervisevic 2-4 0-2 4; P. Pappageorge 0-0 0-0 0; N. Shepherd 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 28-36 71. MONTANA 4-2 (0-0) -- K. Jamar 5-10 0-0 12; A. Steward 2-7 1-2 5; W. Cherry 3-6 6-6 13; D. Selvig 5-11 3-6 14; M. Ward 4-7 1-1 9; B. Reader 2-3 4-5 8; K. DeShields 3-4 0-0 7; E. Hutchison 2-2 1-2 5; M. Weisner 0-0 0-0 0; S. Stockton 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 26-51 16-23 73.
Three-point goals: LBSU 5-16 (L. Anderson 1-4; C. Ware 3-8; E. Dervisevic 0-1; M. Caffey 1-2; J. Ennis 0-1), UMT 5-15 (D. Selvig 1-4; M. Ward 0-1; W. Cherry 1-3; K. Jamar 2-3; A. Steward 0-2; K. DeShields 1-2); Rebounds: LBSU 27 (T. Robinson 13), UMT 31 (M. Ward 8); Assists: LBSU 9 (M. Caffey 3), UMT 14 (K. Jamar 6); Total Fouls -- LBSU 21, UMT 25; Fouled Out: LBSU-None; UMT-A. Steward.